No one candidate, Councillor or Mayor could ever be a subject matter expert on all issues spanning the entire city. That is why we elect a Council of 44 members to spread the load. And like most other candidates and Councillors, I have opinions and biases across many topics. But what matters most is that Councillors should be able to critically analyze the issues as they come up, seek input from residents and experts, select the best solution, and then vote accordingly.
It is only fair at this point that I share with you some of my opinions and biases about some of the issues currently being debated. As Councillor, I would always remain open to new ideas and be willing to weigh opposing views on these issues.
In 2007, J. David Hulchanski, a Professor at the University of Toronto, published a report, The Three Cities within Toronto. Using census data from Statistics Canada, he constructed a trend map covering 35 years of income distribution in Toronto. The results are not at all encouraging; they show a dramatic increase in declining neighbourhoods at the expense of middle income neighbourhoods.
In 1970, 15% of Toronto’s neighbourhoods were considered high income. By 2005, that share had increased to 18%. So wealthy Torontonians are doing fine. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for middle and low income neighbourhoods. In 1970, 66% of neighbourhoods were middle income. By 2005, they had dropped to an astonishing 29% of the city. The reverse is true for low income neighbourhoods. In 1970, 19% of neighbourhoods were deemed low income and, by 2005, this number had increased to dismal 53%.
You can see this graphically in a figure taken from the Hulchanski’s report (the blue areas are high income, the white areas are middle income and the red areas are low income). Note the increase over time of the red areas and the decrease in white ones. Also note that Ward 5 appears to be holding its own.
I have no immediate solution to propose to reverse this trend at this time. However, I do know that a person can go through life in one of two ways. He can look at his neighbour and want to deny him amenities that he himself cannot have – the “beggar thy neighbour” approach. Or, he can look at his neighbour and ask “If my neighbour can have that, then why can’t I?” The latter is the approach I will take to City Hall if I become Councillor.
It is natural if some of the residents of the poorer suburbs envy downtown residents. But instead of trying to deny those downtown residents what they already have, suburban residents should ask for their support to help them rise to their level. On the flip side, downtown residents should realize that relatively speaking they have it pretty good. They would have the momentum and the inertia to continue to do very well if the City was to turn its attention to developing the suburbs for the next couple of decades.
Toronto has the lowest property taxes in all of the GTA and we receive more services per capita for our money. Somehow this message never seems to get through. Nor do we ever seem to talk about what property taxes buy us – a peaceful and civil society, a clean environment, transportation and municipal infrastructure, public health and so many other things that communities rely on to ‘live’ and even thrive. Moreover, Toronto is constantly on the list of major world cities with the lowest taxed residents while consistently being declared one of the best cities in the world in which to live.
It is time that we stop trying to conceive of ways to build public infrastructure, amenities, utilities and transportation systems without having to pay for them. If at the end of the discussion we decide we want less gridlock, smooth roads, more subways, better air quality, more green space and the like, then we should be prepared to pay for them. But if we decide we do not want to pay more, then it is completely unreasonable to expect more.
Therefore, I am willing to consider an increase in taxes to raise revenues beyond the City’s natural revenue growth if required to pay for goods and services that residents indicate that they want. Some of our elderly residents might even remember times when the City held plebiscites whether or not to proceed with large infrastructure projects and the required tax increases to pay for them. I would not say “No” to holding plebiscites for subways, expressways, and other infrastructure.
Island Airport and Jets
How could the benefits possibly outweigh the costs on this one? No one to date has been able to show that tourists from abroad will stop coming to Toronto if their jets cannot land at the Island Airport. Nor have I met anybody in Toronto who will cancel their trips to Florida or Las Vegas if they have to take off from Pearson. In my opinion the money required for Island airport infrastructure can best be used elsewhere where it will benefit more people. Also, it seems that we should at least make use of the new Union Pearson Express train set to roll next year and see how that works out. I go to the islands and visit the waterfront regularly and my preference is for an island with a small airport rather than a big airport on a small island.
Providing community housing is a fact of big city life. There are 185 social housing providers in Toronto, but the City is by far the largest with over 350 buildings consisting of 58,000 units and over 160,000 tenants. It also has a backlog of over $800 million in repairs and this backlog is growing by the month. It’s evident that something has to be done.
We all realize and accept that not everyone can earn six figure salaries and live in beautiful houses in beautiful neighbourhoods. Some of us need to work at jobs that do not pay nearly as well. Some of us cannot even work all. So if we want to continue to buy goods and services that we take for granted, then we are going to have to pay for them one way or another – either through higher prices so that those who provide the goods and services can earn higher wages or through subsidized community housing where they can afford to live. Workers who cannot afford to live in the city will move out and it is hard to believe that they will commute to Toronto from Barrie or Oshawa.
On the other hand, Toronto does not control settlement flows and migration patterns. Federal and provincial governments appear to be relying on population growth and urbanisation as a catalyst for economic development; however, this is not sustainable nor is it a substitute for prudent employment and industrial policies. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect the federal and provincial governments to plan and implement policies that will provide gainful employment for the 3.7 million people they want to attract to the region over a 25 year period. Failing to do so, both these levels of government have a moral and economic responsibility to contribute towards community housing in Toronto. And given their records on economic and industrial growth the last several years, I suggest that now is the time that both ante up in a very big way. On top of that, the last thing we need is a mayor who will not even ask (let alone demand) the federal and provincial governments for funding for fear of “aggravating them.”